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Senate panel rejects proposal to regulate fracking in Florida

A bill to regulate fracking in Florida is on life support after a Senate panel voted to reject the controversial proposal.

The Senate Appropriations Committee narrowly rejected the proposal (SB 318). However, lawmakers used a parliamentary maneuver — in this case, a motion to reconsider — to keep the proposal, sponsored by Sen. Garrett Richter, alive. The motion to reconsider gives lawmakers the option of bringing it up for another hearing in the waning days of the 2016 session.

“As everybody in this room knows, Senate Bill 318 has become a very, very controversial bill. The opponents of the bill are extremely emotional, and I want to begin my comments by thanking them for staying engaged,” said Richter, a Naples Republican. “I have recognized when a debate becomes emotional; it magnifies the controversy.”

Among other things, the proposal requires drillers to get a permit before they can begin fracking, requires the Department of Environmental Protection to conduct a study on the impact of fracking and increases penalties from $10,000 a day per violation to $25,000 a day per violation. It also directs the department to designate FracFocus, a national chemical disclosure registry, as the state’s chemical disclosure registry.

The bill prohibits local governments from putting local bans in place. It does allow local governments to adopt and enforce zoning and land use requirements, as long as those conditions don’t actually prohibit actions.

“The ability to frack exists today,” said Richter. “What this bill does is it establishes an immediate moratorium.”

Richter’s bill calls for a moratorium on fracking until the study is completed and rules are adopted.

The vote came after three hours of debate, where some lawmakers and public speakers alike indicated they would rather see the state ban fracking than move forward with this proposal.

“Gobbledygook is what our citizens are hearing,” said Debbie Harrison-Rumberger, the legislative advocate for the League of Women Voters of Florida, before telling lawmakers they should take up a Senate proposal (SB 166) to ban the proposal.

Lawmakers expanded the definition of well stimulation to get environmental groups, particularly the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, on board. Jennifer Hecker, the director of natural resource policy for the Conservancy, said Thursday that new definition still didn’t cover all types of technologies that can be used in Florida.

A similar bill has already cleared the Florida House. The House voted 73-45 to approve the proposal (HB 191) on Jan. 27.

“I can assure you in my last two weeks of Session I did not want to be here before you with a bill as controversial as this,” said Richter, who is finishing up his last year in the Senate. “But I can also tell you that this bill might be the most important bill that I had the opportunity to file on behalf of the citizens I represent. “

Sen. Tom Lee, the Brandon Republican who serves as chairman of the Senate Appropriations committee, didn’t rule out hearing the bill again before session ends.

“We would only hear the bill again if there was some kind of compromise worked out that would change the outcome,” he told reporters after the meeting.

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